Posts Tagged ‘Civil Society’

Chinese Enviro Group Uses Hazmat Suits to Protect a River

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

 

 

When plans moved forward to build another dam across the heavily polluted Xiang River, members of Green Hunan’s volunteer network dressed up in white hazmat suits to alert the public to a major threat: The section of the river that would fill the reservoir had been used for decades as the city of Changsha’s sewage dump.

Green Hunan’s bold play went viral on China’s social media: this image had over 300,000 views and more than 10,000 shares.

Green Hunan’s bold play went viral on China’s social media: this image had over 300,000 views and more than 10,000 shares.

 

Once the dam was built, the wastewater would collect in the reservoir and pollute the city’s drinking water and damage already stressed river life.

Green Hunan’s bold publicity gained traction. Several big news outlets started following the story, even calling for swift clean up.

As a result, the local government finally began updating its sewage and wastewater systems, starting with renovations of three big pump stations that were releasing untreated wastewater into the river.

Signs that indicate where companies release polluted wastewater are a common sight along the Xiang River. Green Hunan campaigned to put these up to warn the public not to go swimming or fishing in these polluted river sections.

Signs that indicate where companies release polluted wastewater are a common sight along the Xiang River. Green Hunan campaigned to put these up to warn the public not to go swimming or fishing in these polluted river sections.

 

With only 18 days left until the deadline for the upgrades, Green Hunan’s volunteers were on site every day to monitor progress. In the end, the facilities completed the required renovations on time—marking a big win for Green Hunan, the Xiang River, and the citizens of Changsha.

In 2016, we will continue to work with grassroots groups like Green Hunan in Changsha to clean up rivers and pressure polluters to improve their environmental record or shut down.

 

 

Will the Paris Deal Protect the Most Vulnerable?

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

 

On the last day of the Paris Climate Summit, I sat without internet at a related Arctic symposium. The plus side was that I paid attention to the speakers rather than checking my email. The downside was that I sat in suspense, wondering if the long-awaited agreement from the international talks would be announced. I felt a bit disconnected. Although we had set up a forum for our international partners to be heard in Paris, especially on impacts of coal, the final decisions were now being made by delegates in closed-door meetings.

I’m not the only one feeling disconnected. There are many voices from around the world that did not reach Paris, including my husband’s Native Village of Allakaket. In his tiny Arctic Alaska village, households lack running water, let alone internet. No one from Allakaket was invited to the Paris talks. Yet like many other Alaska Native communities, Allakaket is suffering from flooding, erosion, and changes to wildlife on which villagers depend. Because of shoreline erosion and rising sea levels, a number of these villages must relocate.

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Coastal Arctic communities are on the front lines of climate change and oil and gas development. Goldman Environmental Prize photo

In the Arctic, there is no lack of challenge or irony. The region is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet, but many Arctic places are centers of intensive oil and gas drilling. Communities near these places have benefited from modern conveniences brought by oil revenues.

Those of us who live with modern conveniences, myself included, can’t imagine being without them. Some residents of Arctic communities that enjoy electricity and public health services are insulted when people from the lower 48 suggest that they stop drilling their oil reserves. They ask, “Do you expect us to sit in the dark so you can feel good about saving the environment?”

Vulnerable communities from developing countries are asking the same question. There are more than seven billion of us on this planet, and we all want to live comfortably.

So I raised the question at the Arctic Symposium, “Shouldn’t our governments be helping provide an alternative to oil and gas development?”  I targeted the question at the State of Alaska, which has concentrated its economic development in the oil sector rather than fostering a more diversified, resilient economy.

How do we provide for communities that still lack basic amenities, prepare for adaptations needed on the front lines of climate change, and move toward a sustainable economy not based on fossil fuel extraction, all while giving those who live in the region a voice in these decisions? If we from privileged backgrounds want people to put aside their dirty coal and oil, then we have a responsibility to help pay for their sustainable, responsible development—development that avoids adding to our greenhouse gas burden.

The Paris Agreement takes several steps in the right direction. It sets a goal of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius, but recognizes the need to try to limit warming to 1.5 degrees to avoid incremental damage.  Countries must submit plans every five years outlining their emissions reductions. Forest protection is encouraged as a means to absorb carbon.

And this is perhaps the first of any climate agreement to recognize the need for compensation for the loss and damage that climate change causes. Developed countries are required to help developing countries pay for both adaptation and mitigation, although levels of funding are not specified.

But if it stops there, the Paris Agreement will be nothing more than a feel-good declaration. It is up to us—the privileged as well as the vulnerable—to keep pushing from the bottom up. We have to hold our leaders to meaningful emissions reductions and ensure that vulnerable communities are empowered to sustainably adapt and develop. Otherwise it will not be just a few Alaska villages washing away, their culture irreparably lost, but large swaths of humanity.

The Arctic Offers a Glimpse into Our Planet’s Future

Friday, December 11th, 2015

 

This past summer an important thing happened in America’s Arctic.

President Obama, who previously had only stopped in Alaska to refuel Air Force One, decided to spend some quality time with us to explore our magnificent landscapes. And he fell in love—not only with our jaw-dropping scenery, but also with our vibrant Alaska Native cultures.

Seven years into his presidency, President Obama finally spent some time exploring Alaska's wilds and meeting with local communities.

Almost seven years into his presidency, President Obama finally spent some quality time exploring Alaska’s wilderness and meeting with local communities.

A friend of mine who works in Washington, D.C., said when she was in the West Wing of the White House a few weeks ago she was startled to see the walls lined with photos of the President’s visit to Alaska. He clearly was impressed.

While in Alaska, President Obama addressed international ministers gathered to discuss climate change with a focus on the Arctic. The President spoke passionately to the need to address climate change and specifically noted that “[…] the Arctic is the leading edge of climate change—our leading indicator of what the entire planet faces.”

I can’t help but think that images of Alaska were at the forefront of the President’s mind when he traveled to Paris to secure a binding worldwide agreement to protect our environment as our planet’s warming accelerates.

Here in Alaska, America’s Arctic, warming happens more than two times faster than the average global rate. Summer sea ice has been reduced by 40% since 1979, and the Arctic Ocean may be completely ice free during summers starting this century.

Arctic communities are already experiencing firsthand the challenges to their homes and food supplies as the climate rapidly changes. Villages face relocation as shorelines erode without sea ice as protection from heavy waves. Failed hunts associated with loss of sea ice have also caused food shortages.

Arctic flora and fauna are particularly vulnerable in the face of these changes, as they have adapted exquisitely to the extremely harsh conditions in the Arctic. The weather alterations, disappearing ice ecosystem, and warming temperatures pose an existential threat to much of the Arctic’s wildlife.

As the sea ice recedes, numerous nations are looking to expand industrial activities into Arctic seas and coastal waters. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that up to 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil and up to 30% of the world’s undiscovered gas reserves are located in the Arctic. The world’s largest corporations unabashedly announce the “opening” of the Arctic as an historic moment, rich with opportunity for profit.

Oil companies have been fighting for years to drill in the Alaskan Arctic (in the Beaufort, Chukchi, and Bering Seas) and the Russian Arctic (in the Sea of Okhotsk off the coast of Kamchatka). And there is tremendous pressure to build new transportation links—ports, rail lines, and roads—to move coal, oil, and gas out of these pristine environments to manufacturing centers around the world.

Commercial shipping companies are plotting new shipping lanes across the “opening” Arctic. This increased ship traffic will dramatically ramp up disturbances to marine mammals, diesel emissions, and the risk of catastrophic oil spills.

But there is hope for the Arctic. If we can slow the rate of climate change, adopt stringent restrictions on discharges into Arctic marine waters, and develop protected areas both on land and in the seas, then we will be able to protect one of the last great wilds on our planet.

Indeed, what happens in Paris this week is important. And I’m glad President Obama will have firsthand images of Alaska and its peoples on his mind as he argues to es of Alaska and its peoples on his mind as he argues to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to reign in climate change.

The Real Heroes of Paris

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

 

About two months ago, I ran into an old neighbor—I’ll call him Jim—and he got really excited when he heard I was going to Paris. He was following the news about the upcoming Climate Summit, and he was worried. He feared nothing would get done, that the world’s leaders would dither and argue and not meaningfully address the crisis of climate change.

Jim cares. He wrote a check that week to help underwrite my team’s trip.

We came to Paris to screen documentaries from six different countries, each telling the story of people harmed by nearby coal use. We wanted to help bring forward these local voices to be heard by the international negotiators.

I’ve been thinking about what I can tell Jim about these Paris talks. Should he have reason for hope? Were his fears confirmed?

And, I think the answer may surprise him.

I’ll start by telling him about the sense of optimism that pervades the talks this week. A formal international agreement will likely be reached, and the agreement—however flawed and incomplete—will generate momentum and send an important signal to markets and energy companies, scientists and religious leaders, nations and their citizens, all of us really, that the world is ready and serious to move beyond fossil fuels to a clean energy economy.

But, the real story of Paris has truly been the transcendent power of an increasingly massive, diverse, and global climate activism. This activism goes well beyond the environmental movement, which is indeed here in force. It includes a massive showing by city mayors, states and provinces, CEOs, ocean scientists, climate economists, writers and filmmakers, college students and school children, health experts and activists, radicals and militant moderates.

These folks didn’t just show up these two weeks. They’ve been working for years, with accelerating success the past 5-10 years. They are the story of Paris. They created the momentum that the world leaders at Paris are building upon, and they will be the frontrunners, post-Paris, in fighting to accelerate the world’s clean energy transformation quickly enough to keep us below a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

To give a taste of what it is like to be here:

Yesterday on the street I ran into author and co-founder of 350.org, Bill McKibben, and he was talking with respected indigenous leader Princess Lucaj who fights on behalf of rapidly transforming Arctic communities.

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Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, with indigenous leader Princess Lucaj in Paris.

A few days earlier, I heard a scientist from the low-lying island of Palau speak of the need for action now, not later, to help all low-lying islands contend with disappearing villages and sinking coastlines.

Describing her movie at our film festival, Filipina lawyer Krizna Gomez spoke of the ambivalence of those who make a living from coal but knew it was harming them and their children.

Krizna Gomez is a lawyer who is illuminating the connection between human rights and coal in the global south.

Krizna Gomez, a lawyer who is making the connection between human rights and coal in the global south.

Russian activist filmmaker Vladimir Slivyak acknowledged the challenge to confronting coal in Russia today, but argued that there was no choice: “It must be done.”

Vladimir Slivjak is a Russian environmental leader and social justice activist and co-founder of Ecodefense.

Vladimir Slivjak, a Russian environmental leader, social justice activist, and co-founder of Ecodefense.

California Governor Jerry Brown is here to sign agreements with other “subnational” states and provinces from around the world that want to act faster than their national governments. California officials tell me that the formal subnational coalition helps them share information and make faster progress in reducing greenhouse gas pollution from cars and coal plants while growing their solar and wind replacements.

So here it is:

Dear Jim:

The story of Paris is that the civil society hungry to address climate change has become massive, sophisticated, focused, and more assured of its ultimate success. The challenge is to succeed quickly enough to avoid most of the loss and damage.

So, the story of Paris is that it’s not quite as important as it looks. The agreement will be a good thing, a necessary thing, but it’s not the leaders of the world who are going to save us. It’s we who have created the political momentum coming into Paris for those leaders to do the right thing, and it’s we who are going to save ourselves with our leadership in coming years.

Thank you, Jim, and I look forward to partnering with you.

Climate Justice for Coastal Communities

Sunday, December 6th, 2015

 

As sea level rises, low-lying coastal communities around the world are facing the prospect of relocation.

Some of these communities are on remote islands that many have never heard of. Others may be familiar to Americans from the west coast of Alaska and Washington State, and from the bayous of Louisiana.

Many of these communities are home to families that have been there for hundreds or even thousands of years…families that cannot imagine living elsewhere. Many of these communities are not what we would consider “developed” and have contributed little to greenhouse gas emissions.

What does this have to do with Paris?

A few people from these communities have managed to come to Paris to be heard. They call for climate justice, meaning that those who have the most responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions and sea level rise help vulnerable communities adapt to climate change and move forward with low carbon development.

Climate justice also means that vulnerable communities have a voice in decision-making regarding climate change adaptation and mitigation. Migration and adaptation have only just begun to draw international attention, as we realize that adaptive efforts will be needed even if we suddenly stop all greenhouse gas emissions.

Earlier this week I heard a presentation on “Climate Change and Migration” from European social science researchers looking at the causes of migration, the role of inequality, and what kind of policies we need to manage human mobility and climate change.

The conversation continued yesterday, December 5, with “Climate Induced Migrants: Question on Rights and Responsibilities” and “Human Mobility and Climate Change,” presented by United Nations officials, on December 10. Of course, only high-level representatives from accredited entities will be able to attend these events, but getting recognition of these issues from a “top-down” perspective is important.

Because right now there just isn’t much in the way of “top-down” policy and assistance for people faced with the prospect of climate change relocation. There is no climate change adaptation agency or law in my state of Alaska, much less my country of the United States. Alaska’s indigenous shoreline communities watch their traditional lands erode into the water while politicians deny that humans have any sort of role in climate change.

Perhaps the seeds of change will come from the bottom-up. In Alaska, communities are cooperating with universities to figure out how they can be more resilient, and how they can learn from each other. The Alaska Native Village of Newtok formed its own collaborative partnership with dozens of state and federal agencies to plan its own relocation. Tribes and municipalities are coming up with climate change adaptation plans.

The Alaska Native community of Newtok whose territory is eroding into the adjacent river. PHOTO: Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation

This bottom-up movement is even taking shape at the international level. Countries came to Paris with their own voluntary commitments to cut emissions. Will they be enough to stop the rising tide and avoid the relocation of vulnerable communities?

Probably not, which is why we cannot lose sight of climate justice. Let’s all mitigate climate change, but let’s also help make sure everyone has a home.

 

The Elephant in the Room in Paris

Friday, December 4th, 2015

 

It’s no small irony that many of the small island nations most at risk from rising sea levels such as the Marshall Islands are also some of the foremost countries for ship registries.

Called by some the “elephant in the room,” meaningful commitments to reduce emissions from shipping are critical to containing climate change.

Shipping accounts for 3% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Real reductions in international shipping’s greenhouse gas emissions are possible and necessary, but the Paris climate agreement must send a strong signal to the International Maritime Organization that targets are required.

Even the shipping industry is coming around. Just in advance of the Paris climate talks, many of the world’s top shippers issued a statement encouraging the International Maritime Organization to “act urgently in establishing the timely and progressive frameworks required that will deliver a carbon strategy which enables shipping to confidently and effectively play its part in achieving the UNFCCC global CO2 reduction targets.”

Current international rules are insufficient to reduce emissions enough to meet goals of fending off climate change. The shippers further found that, “Climate change is one of the biggest risks to the future of global trade and the shipping industry; the SSI believes that it is not commercially, environmentally or socially sustainable for the shipping industry to continue on a Business As Usual carbon emissions pathway.”

Far from the tropical island states, the Arctic is another region with heightened risk from shipping and climate change.

Just this week a Russian tanker ran aground and is now spilling oil into Arctic waters. The region’s governor has called it an “ecological disaster.”

Sea Birds Sakhalin

A Russian tanker stuck on a reef near Sakhalin Island in the Russian Far East is contaminating local wildlife and even affecting some Alaskan species. Photo by Sakhalin Environment Watch and Club Boomerang

Vanishing sea ice is making way for increased shipping in Arctic waters, including ships carrying oil. Pacific Environment is focused on creating both domestic and international rules to protect Arctic marine environments that are so crucial to local communities.

Earlier this year, the International Maritime Organization approved the Polar Code, putting many important rules in place, including prohibitions on dumping garbage and protections for whales and other marine mammals.

But, top threats to the Arctic remain unaddressed, including the risk for oil spills, which are nearly impossible to clean up in icy Arctic waters.

In fact, the Arctic Council identified a spill of heavy fuel as the top threat associated with Arctic shipping. Black carbon emissions caused by ships burning heavy fuel oil also accelerate sea ice melting.

Heavy fuel oil was banned in Antarctic waters in 2010, but remains to be banned in Arctic waters. Pacific Environment is advocating that the U.S. Coast Guard and IMO create Arctic shipping measures that avoid and minimize dangers from oil spills, including a ban on heavy fuel oil and establishment of protected areas.

 

 

 

 

The People Speak in Paris: Climate Art and Action

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

 

I grew up attending environmental and peace rallies with my family.

So as the closed door negotiations of the Paris climate talks begin, I find myself particularly interested in how folks on the ground are creatively expressing the truth about what needs to happen in the talks.

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Mass gatherings in Paris aren’t allowed, but people are finding many other ways to express the need for profound commitments and actions to address the climate change challenge.

Here are some examples that inspired me:

 

These actions remind us that the world is not just watching in Paris. So many of us across the globe are already taking a stand, making hard choices, and putting our passions into saving ourselves from climate change. And we expect something more than empty promises, more than just doing what is comfortable and safe and supports the status quo.

As negotiators begin the challenge of turning promises into real, actionable steps forward, we stand in solidarity with the passionate individual who have come to Paris to be heard – and all of those around the globe doing our part for the climate.

 

#GivingTuesday: Help Us Amplify Grassroots Voices in Paris

Monday, November 30th, 2015

 

Today is #GivingTuesday, a global day for giving back!

That’s why I’m writing from the U.N. climate conference in Paris, asking supporters like you to make a donation right now to help us reach our #GivingTuesday goal of raising $1,000 in 24 hours.

I’ve spent the past two months organizing “The Cost of Coal,” a film festival showcasing award-winning documentaries about the terrible impacts of coal and pollution on local communities in China, Russia, Australia, South Africa, the Philippines, and elsewhere.

While government representatives are negotiating a new climate deal, we want to bring attention to those who are directly, and daily, affected by the causes and consequences of climate change.

But I need your help to amplify the voices of grassroots activists in Paris. Your gift will make a huge difference to a small organization like Pacific Environment.

Coal Popcorn

So please join me, my colleagues, and the brave grassroots activists we are bringing to Paris to take a stand against climate change and coal—the worst of all climate-changing fossil fuels.

You can help make this our most successful #GivingTuesday yet!

Make a gift now to help us reach our goal of raising $1,000 in 24 hours!

“Monsieur, there’s coal in my popcorn!”

Monday, November 30th, 2015

 

Today is the first day of the U.N. climate change conference. Thousands of people are coming to Paris to be heard. The metro is free today, streets are crowded.

With 180 countries participating in the negotiations, everyone seems hopeful that this climate summit will be the one where an agreement on a global reduction of carbon dioxide emissions will be reached.

As world leaders are trying to craft an agreement that will begin to curve the trajectory of global greenhouse gases back to a level that will save the planet from devastating consequences, Pacific Environment is amplifying peoples’ voices.

On December 7, we are hosting “The Cost of Coal,” an international film festival that examines the harmful effects of the coal industry on human health—and gives local communities an opportunity to tell THEIR stories at the Paris climate conference.

Coal Popcorn

While government representatives are negotiating a new climate deal, we want to bring attention to those who are directly, and daily, affected by the causes and consequences of climate change.

One film tells the story of a South African community in the Mpumalanga Highveld region, which is home to 12 (!) of the world’s largest power stations. Almost all the people featured in the film have health issues, many suffer from asthma. Yet they keep burning coal in their homes because it’s their only source of energy.

Another film tells the story of indigenous peoples in Russia who lost their land to the coal industry to mine the worst of all climate-changing fossil fuels.

The Philippines, among the countries most vulnerable to climate change, is home to numerous coal-fired power plants that sicken communities. As the festival entry shows, the negative health effects of coal aren’t stopping people from saying “No” to the coal industry and demanding a full switch to renewable energy.

Yesterday, hundreds of thousands of people around the world took to the streets to call on world leaders to scale up action to achieve 100% renewable energy and protect people from worsening climate change impacts.

Solidarity and unity are some of the big themes of this summit—and of our film festival, which brings together participants from five continents and many different countries, including China, Russia, Australia, South Africa, Colombia, Turkey, and the Philippines.

Most of us have never met in person. But we are coming together because we all share one goal—to stop harmful coal production and prevent a climate catastrophe.

Will Human Rights Prevail Again in Paris?

Saturday, November 28th, 2015

 

Arriving in Paris amid intensive security, over 40,000 people are anticipated to attend the international climate summit this week and next. The attendees include 10,000 delegates from 195 countries, in addition to thousands of journalists, NGOs, scientists, and activists.

This will be the biggest diplomatic event to be held in France since the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights was signed here in 1948.  Following the atrocities of World War II, the Declaration was the first global definition of the rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled.

Eleanor Roosevelt with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (November 1949)

Eleanor Roosevelt with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (November 1949)

Dealing with climate change impacts also implicates human rights. That’s why a U.S. court in Washington State recently ruled in favor of a group of children who had sued the state for failing to protect them from climate emission-caused harms.

The judge agreed with the children’s assertion that the state has an obligation to protect natural resources—such as rivers and lakes and the atmosphere—because these resources are held for all in a “public trust.” The judge found that, “[the youths’] very survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming…before doing so becomes first too costly and then too late.”

Pacific Environment will be in Paris to help make this connection between climate change and human rights. We’ll host a film festival that showcases the harm coal is causing to communities in several of the world’s most important coal-producing and consuming countries. These films, and the panel discussion following, will allow local leaders to bring their stories forward to the government delegates and the world.

Will the agreement reached in Paris this time make history, too?

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